Whole Living Daily

Transforming Disappointment

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Dealing with disappointment can be a challenge. Recently my sister sent me a gift for my birthday—a fountain that was perfect for my office. I got batteries, filled the reservoir with water, and hit the switch. In anticipation, I waited for cascading water to dance over the river rocks. And waited. And waited some more.

But not a sputter or gurgle came out. Nada.

After shaking, cajoling, adjusting the water levels, I had to admit the inevitable—this fountain was defective. In that moment, I felt real disappointment. The fountain didn’t cascade, but my mind cascaded with several anxious thoughts:

“Where do I find this store in Portland?”

“What if they don’t let me return the fountain?”

“I’m very busy—I don’t have time to drive there and twiddle my thumbs in the customer return line.”

I noticed these thoughts in the moment, surprised by how quickly they bubbled up from my mind. In that moment, I consciously countered these thoughts with soothing thoughts like: “I’m sure they have a return policy—and I have the receipt.” “I could enjoy a trip out of the office on a nice day like today.”

As you may imagine, my disappointment over the faulty fountain didn’t last very long. Of course, this is easier to do when it’s an inanimate object like a fountain that is doing the disappointment. A fountain can’t reject you. It can’t criticize you unfairly. It can’t judge you in any way.

How to Handle Disappointment
Disappointment is a natural feeling. And there will ALWAYS be some disappointment in life…

Fortunately, there is one important thing that you can do for yourself to overcome disappointment, which is not to take it personally.

Here’s how: When a disappointment comes, start noticing the thoughts you have about the disappointment.

Just noticing the thoughts and feelings can open the space for you to counter them with more soothing thoughts.

This practice alone can be as soothing and calming as the sound of a burbling brook. …By the way, they didn’t have the fountain in stock, so I got an appliance my wife wanted instead, and everyone was happy. ;)

Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, is a practicing psychotherapist, former Buddhist monk, Emmy-Award-winning writer, and board member of The Center for Mindful Eating. His new book is The Mindfulness Code: Keys for Overcoming Stress, Anxiety, Fear, and Unhappiness.


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Comments (4)

  • Thank you for your wisdom. I am going through a divorce and have spent many a day taking my husbands actions very personally.

  • This reminds me of the saying that things own us more than we own things. I believe I would have reminded myself that gifts are given to demonstrate caring love and friendship, then enjoyed the demonstration thereof and found a nice spot in the back of a closet where the actual object could be forgotten. I would not however forget to express appropriate gratitude for the gift.
    Not that I recommend this for everyone all the time, but I've been pretty busy lately.

  • How liberating it is to realize that in most situations we can opt out of being disappointed! Once we notice ourselves going there, we can, as Donald points out, take a moment to frame the situation in a different light and identify the gifts in it. Of course, this is harder to do in some situations than in others (for example, I imagine it would be very difficult to reframe disappointment in one's child after he or she has acted unkindly), and in those cases simply noticing the disappointment can help us to move through it. Thank you, Donald, for these practical reminders.

  • Thanks for these thoughtful comments. I love getting new perspectives... And yes, it is hard to not take things personally... though it can be liberating to do so.

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